Islamabad’s Own Misdeeds Made Kabul Hostile. By Manish Rai

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Recently there was a dramatic disclosure that Sirajuddin Haqqani, Chief of the infamous Haqqani Network and Interior Minister in the Taliban interim government, was holding a Pakistani passport and that it had been cancelled. This development was a bit strange as the Haqqani network is considered as a longstanding ally of Pakistan. But for quite some time it has been observed that everything is not good between Pakistan and its long-time favourite Haqqani Network. Sirajuddin Haqqani criticized Pakistan’s Afghan policies like- He described Pakistan’s decision to expel Afghan refugees from Pakistan as “UnIslamic.” Many analysts believe that the cancellation of Haqqani’s Pakistani passport was done to give a strong message to the Taliban regime in Kabul. Last month Pakistan’s special representative for Afghanistan, Asif Durrani, repeated his warning stating that the Afghans must “choose Pakistan or the TTP”. The temperature has been on the rise between Islamabad and Kabul for quite some time now. By refusing to rein in the TTP, Pakistan believes the current Afghan regime has already made its choice. And now Islamabad is trying to strong-arm the Afghan Taliban by expelling hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees from Pakistan, shutting key border crossings, and temporarily blocking Afghan transit goods in recent months. Many experts monitoring the Af-Pak region are of the view that the relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban, which have been close allies for decades, has reached a crisis point and any further escalation could have major security and economic ramifications for both countries.

Currently, the main point of contention between Pakistan and Afghan Taliban is the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) more popularly known as Pakistani Taliban but there are other factors also which are contributing to the deterioration of bilateral relations. Let’s have a look at these factors.

Deep Mistrust- The Taliban do not want to operate or even be seen as Pakistan’s proxies. They no longer trust the Pakistani state particularly its military establishment owing to the fact that it quickly became a foe in the wake of American pressure and went to the extent of handing over Taliban leaders to the United States. This betrayal of Pakistan was always remembered and resented by the Taliban. While the U.S. forces were in Afghanistan, the Taliban restored and maintained relations with Pakistan out of political expediency and the need for sanctuaries. But the sanctuaries are no longer needed, hence there is no need for the Taliban to rely on Pakistan for their survival.

Border Dispute- Another important reason that caused friction between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban is the Af-Pak border commonly known as the Durand Line. The Taliban, like all preceding Afghan governments, remain unwilling to recognize the Durand Line as the border between the two countries. In fact, there has been a series of skirmishes along the border between the Pakistani military and Taliban forces, a development that has astonished many initially.

Exploitation of the Peace Talks by Pakistan- On the request of the Pakistani establishment Afghan Taliban acted as the mediator between TTP and Pakistan and hosted the peace talks in Kabul. However, the duplicitous role Pakistan played during the talks with TTP made the Afghan Taliban furious. Pakistan exploited the dialogue as a trap to lure senior TTP commanders out of the woods to the negotiating table only to target and kill several of them inside Afghanistan’s territory.

Pakistan Economic Blackmail- Pakistan always wished to have Afghanistan economically dependent on it. Afghanistan is a landlocked country and most of its international trade takes place through Pakistan’s Karachi port. This dependency of Afghans has been used as a tool for blackmailing and pressurizing by Pakistan many times before. Recently Pakistanis temporarily blocked the transit of thousands of containers filled with imports bound for Afghanistan that were stranded at the port city of Karachi for months. To open alternative international trade routes the Taliban has sought access to Iran's strategic Chabahar Port, located in the country’s southeast.

Strategic Diversity- The Taliban regime wants to diversify its geopolitical portfolio by establishing working relations with all the important major players in the region. That’s why the Taliban have increasingly sought to reprise the traditionally relatively warm India–Afghanistan relationship. Taliban officials (including those once implicated in attacks on Indian targets) have implored Indian companies to recommence work on stalled infrastructure projects, a request that New Delhi is actively considering. This is raising concerns among Pakistani policymakers.

Islamabad’s long-standing objective to have a heavily dependent government in Kabul has now finally burned to the ground. As with the presently ruling Taliban regime who, instead of providing any strategic advantage or contributing to Pakistan’s security, has become a worrisome thorn in Islamabad’s side. In order to coerce the Afghan Taliban Pakistan is taking unilateral decisions like expelling the Afghan refugees but these moves will erode the little diplomatic goodwill still left for Pakistan in Kabul. On the other hand, it will further alienate the already hostile anti-Pakistan public opinion in Afghanistan.  Policymakers in Islamabad should accept that their Afghan policy has failed miserably and requires a revamp.

 

(Author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of the geo-political news agency ViewsAround can be reached at manishraiva@gmail.com)

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